Crisis! Such a strong and emotive word, conjuring up unimaginable disaster, that it seems unlikely that a crisis could ever hit your business, right? Wrong! Whether you run a FTSE company or a charity, a good reputation is essential for success and a poorly managed crisis can damage reputation. Organisations invest considerable time and money in building trust between their brand and their stakeholders – from staff and customers to investors and legislators – and poor crisis communications management can shake confidence very quickly.
Wise organisations will have a robust business continuity plan that kicks into place if a disaster occurs, but many forget about the communications aspect of dealing with a crisis. A crisis communications plan should be an integral part of business continuity, ensuring that the organisation is ready to communicate quickly and effectively if a crisis incident occurs. Crisis preparedness is like a communications insurance policy; it will enable an organisation to be decisive and proactive, and lead from the front.
So where to start? The first step is to recognise that a crisis can come from anywhere. Yes, it can be caused by an employee’s action – there are plenty of examples of malfeasance in the finance sector and the misdeeds of staff, like the offensive t-shirts supposedly printed by a rogue employee – but crises descend from the most unexpected sources. Think of the disaster clause in a home insurance policy; it can equally apply to business – flood, fire, riots! Not so long ago a helicopter crashed in central London, causing huge disruption. Such external incidents can harm people, business infrastructure, data and disrupt day-to-day business.
While it is impossible to anticipate every potential risk, organisations should have a business continuity plan which dovetails with a crisis communications plan – if they want to protect business transactions and reputation.
To get started on a crisis communications plan, review the risks detailed in the business continuity plan and make sure a broad range of probable risks are identified. Then, look at these risks from a communications perspective and ask, if these happened:
- Who needs to know (target audiences)?
- How do we gather information needed to communicate with target audiences?
- Who will collect and disseminate information?
- What other roles and tasks need to be assigned to particular members of staff?
- How will we monitor media and online reaction to the incident?
- What tools will be needed to communicate with audiences (including identifying their favourite media)?
- What logistical arrangements need to be made to ensure fast and effective communication?
- Have all the key people in the organisation bought into the plan?
- How will information on crisis communications procedures be logged and shared with the relevant people in the organisation?
In our next post we will go into details about some of these questions to help you come up with a tried and tested crisis communication plan.
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